Thursday, October 10, 2019

New plants for our garden—always room for more!

Fall is the ideal planting time in our neck of the woods, they say ("they" including nurseries eager to, well, sell plants). While an argument could be made that for some types of plants, including succulents, spring is actually better, I'm not in an arguing mood today. Instead I want to show you all the wonderful things you can find at this time of year when botanical gardens, native plant societies and other organizations debut their new offerings. More temptation comes courtesy of commercial nurseries who routinely offer nice discounts, either on select groups of plants or even on their entire stock.

This is not the time to be disciplined so don't even bother. After all, who refuses a piece of cake on their own birthday! Buy what catches you eye and don't be afraid to take a chance on something that may not be perfectly ideal for your climate—nice surprises happen more often than you think!

But there's another source for new plants: friends and fellow plant geeks! Of course their generosity isn't limited to autumn, but there seems to be a shared desire to rehome plants before winter comes.

In this post I want to show you some of my recent plant hauls. Lest you ask, no, I don't know where all of them will go, but I home some ideas. Read on to find out.

Aloes from John and Justin, including rarities like Aloe ikiorum, Aloe lukeana, and Aloe vanbalenii × mawii as well as Aloe africana from Annie's Annuals and Aloe claviflora from Trader Joe's. There's also a ×Mangave 'Bloodspot' pup from Justin (and a nice-sized Agave applanata not shown in the photo).

On Saturday, I visited two friends in the Bay Area, John in Richmond and Justin in Pinole. Like me, they love aloes, in addition to being the nicest people. Above are the goodies they sent home with me, ranging from seedling they grew themselves to unexpected finds at places like Trader Joe's and Annie's Annuals. The seedlings are still small and will live in pots for at least another year, but the Aloe africana is ready to go in the ground now.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Small but splendid succulent garden at Orange Coast College (Old World section)

This post looks at the Old World section in the small but oh-so-fine succulent garden at Orange Coast College (OCC) in Costa Mesa, California. If you haven't seen the New World section yet (on the left in the photo below), click here.

The Old World section takes up about half of the succulent garden. Just like its New World counterpart, it combines a representative selection of plants (all grown to perfection) with hardscape elements like boulders and a dry creek bed. The overall effect is beautiful and cohesive. Botanical gardens have both more plants and a wider variety—obviously!—but few have vignettes this attractive.

Old World section in the succulent garden at Orange Coast College

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Small but splendid succulent garden at Orange Coast College (New World section)

Quite a while ago, somebody told me about the succulent garden at a community college in Orange County. I couldn't remember who I'd gotten the tip from or what the name of the college was, but I decided to do some research when I was in Orange County a couple of weeks ago. A simple Google search led me to Orange Coast College (OCC) in Costa Mesa. As luck would have it, our hotel was less than 5 miles away, and it took me just 10 minutes to get there.

From a brief article on the OCC web site, I knew that the succulent garden was behind the chemistry building which, in turn, is right next to the main parking lot. In other words, it didn't take me long to find what I'd come to see:

According to the article, the succulent garden began as a project in horticulture instructor Joe Stead's class “Cactus, Succulents, and their Use in Landscaping.” The hardscape and plants were installed in January 2012. Currently the small garden contains 60 species from 35 succulent genera from both the Old and the New World. Plant biology classes use the garden as a living laboratory to study parallel evolution.

Often a display garden at a public institution is a fairly modest affair—a sparse selection of common varieties necessitated, as much as anything, by a shoestring budget. That's what I expected to find at OCC as well. Fortunately, the reality is a lot more exciting. This is Orange County, after all.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Mark R's amazing succulent and bromeliad garden (back)

In part 1 of this post I showed you Mark R's front garden in Oakland: a colorful abundance of succulents and bromeliads in all their glory. The back garden is a seamless continuation, with a few other surprises thrown in—even some tomatoes, as you can see in this photo:

The back garden is not a large space, but it comfortably held our group from the San Francisco Bromeliad Society (not everybody made it into these photos).

Whenever I'm with a group of like-minded people, I'm torn between wanting to talk shop and looking at the plants. In this case, we were on a schedule so I opted to focus on the plants. I hope I didn't come off as boorish.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Mark R's amazing succulent and bromeliad garden (front)

Earlier this summer I visited several remarkable gardens in Berkeley and Oakland with the San Francisco Bromeliad Society. The first was landscape designer David Feix's tropical jungle. The second was Mark R's succulent and bromeliad garden. I took so many photos that I decided to spread them out over two posts. This one focuses on the front garden.

Mark's front garden

I hadn't met Mark before and didn't get a chance to talk to him during this visit either because he was busy answering a nonstop stream of questions from the 30+ SF Bromeliad Society members. For this reason, I don't know anything about the development of his garden. However, based on the plant selection alone, it felt like Mark was a long-lost brother from another mother.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Superb succulent plantings at Plant Depot Nursery

Last month I wrote about Plant Depot Nursery in San Juan Capistrano at the southern edge of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. This weekend I'm back in the Southland helping daughter #2 move into her dorm at UC Irvine. I had some free time on Saturday morning so I drove back down to Plant Depot. As luck would have it, San Juan Capistrano was still shrouded in mist—perfect light for photography. Before I went into the nursery proper, I took a closer look at the street-side plantings. They seem nice from the car, but it's hard to see a lot of detail when you're supposed to pay attention to the road. I'm happy to report that up close, they're not just nice, they're fantastic! I was pleasantly surprised by the large variety of succulents and the way they're combined. What a great way to showcase water-wise plants, and what a great advertisement for the nursery!

As I was taking pictures, a man walking his golden lab came up to me and expressed surprise that I was so interested in the plants. I explained that we simply don't have nurseries like these in the Sacramento area. After I mentioned how much I enjoyed the plants and that I thought it was a great way to get people to stop at the nursery, he introduced himself as Brent Kittle, the owner of Plant Depot! Brent couldn't remember ever hearing customers say anything about the plantings so he assumed nobody paid any attention to them. I found that astounding—and sad. 

A lot of effort (and money) goes into creating attractive plant showcases, and I wish customers were more vocal about their appreciation. I, for one, am determined to give positive feedback whenever I can. Nurseries value a kind word just as much as we do as gardeners.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Garden sparkles after unexpected rain

Our summers are long, warm/hot, and  dry—emphasis on the latter. We have a textbook Mediterranean climate so we typically don't get any rain between May and October. According to the UC Davis Weather & Climate site, the last time it had rained was on May 27 (a whopping 0.07").

Imagine my surprise and excitement when yesterday we not only woke up to cloudy skies but soon smelled petrichor—that incomparable scent of rain on dry asphalt and parched soil. No, it didn't last long or amounted to much (0.06"), but it was an unexpected gift and therefore precious.

I was thrilled for myself, but equally so for our plants. Beyond a much needed drink, they also needed a good washing off after months of dust. As the “rain” was letting up, I went outside and took pictures to document this unexpected boon.

×Mangave ‘Purple People Eater’

Friday, September 13, 2019

David Feix's tropical jungle in Berkeley

Berkeley is only 60 miles from Davis, but it might as well be a different planet. In the summer, people in Davis wear as little as they can get away with because it's 100°F outside; in Berkeley, they don wool sweaters and wrap scarves around their necks because it's a chilly 65°F. OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. A mid-summer daytrip to San Francisco Bay is always a welcome escape, especially when plants are involved. Even better: an organized event that makes the trip legit.

In late July, I had the opportunity to visit several Berkeley-area gardens as part of the San Francisco Bromeliad Society's East Bay Garden Tour. The first stop was the garden of well-known landscape designer David Feix. David started his professional career as a landscape architect but soon switched to landscape design because his primary interest was creating plant-focused gardens instead of projects that prioritize the hardscape. A plant geek to the core, he has been a major influencer in the Bay Area landscape design and gardening community, introducing plants from all over the world in his gardens.

I've been following David for years on social media channels, but I'd never actually met him in person. That's why I was excited to finally see his own personal space. Knowing that David's garden designs center on bromeliads, succulents, subtropicals and Mediterranean-climate plants, I had a pretty good idea what to expect. However, I was still surprised by the sheet density of plants both in his front and back garden—and the almost shocking greenness. Yes, this is Berkeley with its Goldilocks climate (mild and frost-free winters, warm but not hot summers), but David's garden is extraordinarily lush even for Berkeley.

Front garden

The day of my visit was sunny, resulting in very contrasty conditions and making photography difficult. The fact that there were 40+ other people in the garden at the same time didn't make things easier. I'm hoping that I'll have a chance to visit again on an overcast day, and with fewer people around, but for now here are my photographic impressions of David's private sanctuary. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Going vertical: the next frontier

Space was the final frontier for the starship Enterprise. My aim is not quite as lofty, although my eyes are directed toward space. I'm beginning to moving up: quite literally up, off the ground. It's the only way to go since I'm running out of horizonal space on terra firma.

With four California bay trees in the backyard, there are plenty of places for hanging planters. Finding one I like was the hardest part. Macramé lovers have plenty to choose from (the 1970s are destined to haunt us forever), the rest of us not so much. I finally stumbled on something that spoke to me: rusty metal, a decent size, and reasonably affordable. Best of all: a large frame that doesn't interfere with the plants as much as the rope or wires of a traditional hanging planter would.

Here's the project in three photos: two planters attached to two different bay trees.

Big thanks to my wife for her creative thinking and her help installing these planters.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Plant-nerd technology that works: Huntington digital plant map

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently attended the 2019 Succulent Symposium at the Huntington in San Marino, CA. In contrast to my experience at similar events, every single presentation kept my attention, and I learned a great deal about plants with which I only had a passing familiarity or knew nothing about. 

I also found out a few things about the Huntington, including ambitious plans for the Chinese Garden and a new outdoor event area. But nothing surprised me more than finding out that the Huntington has been digitally mapping the plants in its collections and making the results available to, well, anybody and everybody. 

I suspect I might be the last one to hear about this, but in case I'm not, here's what I've gathered: As they walk the gardens, employees use portable devices (maybe simply their smartphone?) to send plant location data to the Huntington's online plant database. From, you and I and the rest of the world has access to all the plants that have been captured so far. How cool is that?

Unfortunately, I didn't have this information when I walked through the Desert Garden the day before the Succulent Symposium, but I tried it out at home. Here's what the experience is like:

This is what you see when you get to